Mount Lebanon National Heritage

Mount Lebanon’s mountainous terrain and thick forestry have kept invading armies at bay and was instead a safe haven for communities fleeing persecution. The many churches and monasteries, some built into the rocks and others upon the foundations of temples from previous eras attest to the region’s rich and colorful history. Phoenician and Roman remains have been unearthed throughout the villages which lie on hilltops. Key events in Lebanon’s recent history (between 1400 and 1900) were played out in Mount Lebanon thus adding to the region a unique phase reflected in the numerous cultural heritage remains.

Afqa

(71km from Beirut)

In Afqa is a huge grotto which is the source of the “Nahr Ibrahim” River. Across from the grotto are the remains of the Roman temple of Venus. Walk down the steps at the side of the structure to appreciate its massive size. A curved tunnel, still visible beneath the foundations, was used to channel water. Growing from between the temple’s great stones is a fig tree with bits of material tied to its branches, a carryover from ancient tradition which attributed special powers to this spot.

Although the temple was destroyed by the Christian Emperor Constantine (285-337 AD), it was later rebuilt by Julian the Apostate (360-363). The Adonis-Astarte fertility rite continued in Lebanon into the 5th century AD.

Getting There …
Afqa is reached via Qartaba, turning right at the town of Majdel.

Annaya

(Hermitage of St. Charbel – 54 km from Beirut)

Annaya claims a name for itself due to Saint Charbel who lived and died in its Hermitage. The St. Maroon Monastery also has a wide attraction, where a small, vaulted-ceiling stone church is open to visitors and a souvenir shop sells religious objects, books and pictures.

Leaving the monastery, a road to the left leads up to the Hermitage. Approached by a long set of wide stone stairs, this mountain top location affords a magnificent view. Inside the old building are various hermit’s cells, including the room where Charbel died. A small square church is part of the hermitage.

Annaya attracts a steady stream of visitors so the area has a good selection of restaurants and snack shops. Both the monastery and the hermitage have restroom facilities. Sleeping quarters for overnight guests at the monastery are available at a modest fee.

Two kilometers before Annaya is Torzaya, known for its interesting cave. The cave entrances are in an idyllic valley below the Church of St. Theresa, about two kilometers downhill from the mosque in the center of town. Another half kilometer downhill from the church brings you to the bridge and from here a footpath leads to a cave with many chambers and fantastic stone shapes which can be explored on foot.

In winter and spring, when the cave is a channel for the rushing River Ibrahim, the water flows from beneath a natural arch out into a verdant river valley. In summer you can explore the cave on foot with the help of a flashlight. This little valley is a beautiful spot for a picnic. A walk around the area might also turn up antique remnants such as cave burial chambers, or elements from a Roman temple, which probably once stood here.

Getting There …
From Byblos (Jbeil), take the road heading east and follow the road signs until you reach Annaya, some 16km away.

Baakline

(Historic Town – 52 km from Beirut)

Founded in the 12th century by the Maan emirs, Baakline served as their capital until the early 17th century when its most famous Emir Fakhreddine II, moved to Deir el-Qamar. Today Baakline is an important Druze town and seat of the sect’s religious leader. The beautiful grand serail, the main administrative building of Baakline before World War II, has been restored and transformed into a public library.

In the center of the village stands the palace of Sheikh Hussein Hamadeh, built in stages starting in 1591. In the area of the Serail are some Druze religious buildings of the 18th and 19th centuries, including khalwats, (meeting places), and a maqam, or tomb.

Baakline is also famous for its embroidery. Hikers should ask about the footpath that leads from Baakline down into the valley for some 12 km. The route goes past a large sinkhole, and continues on to two natural swimming pools on the Nahr al Hammam.

Getting There …
From Beirut drive south towards Damour, where you will need to access the road heading east towards Beiteddine. There are road signs to direct you. Baakline is only 7km away from Beiteddine.

Beit Chabab

(600m – 24km from Beirut)

This village has retained its traditional crafts of pottery and bell making into the modern age. The only bell foundry in Lebanon, the craftsmen here cast the half-ton bronze bells in a single mold. The bells are usually made for Lebanon’s Christian churches, who order them to a specific pitch.

Pottery workshops, which are open only during the summer months, turn out a selection of pottery ware including the huge storage jars that are traditionally used for olive oil, preserved meat or arak.

Beit Chabab is an interesting village with many traditional houses and churches, the oldest of which is the Saydet el Ghabeh (Our Lady of the Forest), which dates to 1761.

Getting There …
Travel north from Beirut until you reach Antelias. From there turn right and drive eastward heading upwards towards Bikfaya. Just before you reach Bikafaya, and from Kornet Chehwan turn left. As you do so, you will get a panoramic view of Beit Chabab.

Beiteddine

(palace of the Emirs – 45 km from Beirut)

Beiteddine Palace, begun in 1812, is the best example of Lebanon’s feudal architecture and an important stop on every visitor’s itinerary. The former seat of the Lebanese Emirs, the palace was built by Emir Bechir Chehab II and remained his residence until he was forced into exile in 1840. Ottoman authorities later used it as a government residence, and under the French Mandate it became an administrative building.

Beiteddine was declared a historic monument in 1934 and in 1943 it was completely restored by the General Directorate of Antiquities as a summer residence for Lebanon’s president. The first president to reside here, Beshara el-Khoury, had the remains of Emir Bechir II returned from Istanbul, where he died in 1850.

The Palace is divided into three main sections. The first part includes the large courtyard, or midan, and a two-story wing originally used for receiving guests. An internal staircase leads to the upper floor where the archaeological and ethnographic museum is located. In the middle section of the palace you’ll find the apartments of the Hamadeh Sheikhs of the Shouf, who were responsible for palace security.

The reception wing, made up of a waiting room and a hall, is by far the most ornate in the palace, with mosaic floors and walls covered with carved marble, sculptures and inscriptions. The third part is the Dar el-Harim or private apartments, which have a large and richly decorated facade. This section includes the Upper Harem, the Reception Room, the Lower Harem and the kitchens.

The bath, one of the most beautiful in the Arab world, is located here as well. In the handsome restored stables you’ll find a display of mosaics, the largest of which come from a Byzantine church in Jiyyeh, south of Beirut. Some mosaics are also laid in the beautiful gardens near the stables. Not far from the mosaic museum is the hermitage, or khalwa, a place of religious seclusion for the Druzes. Much older than the rest of the palace, this room has been restored.

A visit to Beiteddine is ideally combined with nearby Deir al Qamar. Beiteddine town is also worth exploring. Here Emir Bechir built palaces for each of his three sons, Qassim, Khalil and Amine. A few traces of Emir Qassim’s palace can be seen on a hill facing the grand palace, while Khalil’s palace is now the Serail of Beiteddine. The Mir Amine Palace, however, is both a hotel and a tourist attraction. Restored by the Ministry of Tourism, the 24-room hotel is set in a terraced garden overlooking valleys and mountains.

Several restaurants and a craft shop can be found in the area of the Beiteddine Palace, which is also the venue of a major summer cultural festival.

Just outside Beiteddine is the fantasy known as Moussa’s Castle where you can see animated scenes illustrating Lebanon’s traditional way of life and moments in history. The roadside near the castle is usually crowded with children enjoying pony rides and other amusements.

Getting There …
From Beirut drive south towards Damour, where you will need to access the Beiteddine road heading east, passing through Deir El Qamar before reaching Beiteddine, some 45km away from Beirut.

Beit Mery

(Roman-Byzantine Remains – 18 km from Beirut)

Historical records reveal that Beit Mery was referred to as “Old Beirut”. It was a refuge to the inhabitants of Beirut in times of war and earthquakes.

The sudden dramatic height of Mount Lebanon gives Beit Mery, at 800 meters, spectacular views of the Beirut peninsula and large sections of the coast. In the center of town, a signposted road to the right leads to the Maronite Monastery of Saint John the Baptist (known as Deir el Qalaa) and Beit Mery’s Roman and Byzantine remains.

This huge site, on a strategic location overlooking Beirut, is on three levels. At the top are the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to the important local god baal marqod which has a church built on parts of its foundations. The church, dedicated to Saint John the Baptist was constructed in 1750 and has apparently been rebuilt a number of times since then. The inscription above the main door bears the date 1768, the year the church was first rebuilt. The old church is incorporated into the present early 20th century structure. The temple itself, probably dating to the first century AD, has masonry intact up to three meters.

Three of the six columns are still standing, although not at their original height. A short walk down the hill leads to the site of a small second century AD temple to the goddess June. A monumental doorway still stands amid a jumble of ancient stones, some with Latin inscriptions. This doorway was probably the start of a processional path between the two temples. Below the June temple is an extensive area of scattered ruins.

Of particular note is the mosaic floor of a 6th century Byzantine church with one of the reused temple columns in place. Nearby is a remarkably well preserved public bath. In one of its rooms it is possible to observe the heating system through a hole broken in the floor. The hypocaust tiles, used to conduct heat, are all in place. Once a Roman-Byzantine settlement, the entire site is littered with remains of more temples, a second bath and a colonnaded street.

Getting There …
Beit Mery is easily accessible from Beirut. From the Mkalles roundabout get on the road heading east. You will drive through Mansourieh, and Ain Saadeh before you reach Beit Mery on the mountain top.

Bkirke

(20 km from Beirut)

Bkirke, in a forest above Jounieh, has been the winter residence of Lebanon’s Maronite Patriarch since 1830. This handsome red roofed structure in a setting of pine trees was built in 1893 around an earlier monastery founded in 1703. Above the Italianate main portal is the Patriarchate’s coat of arms with Arabic, Syriac and Latin inscriptions of an Old Testament quotation: “The glory of Lebanon has been given to Him”.

Visitors are welcome and will be shown the courtyard, the reception halt where the Patriarch holds his audiences, a portrait gallery and the church with its columns of fossilized stone.

Getting There …
To get to Bkirke from Beirut, you will have to drive north along the coastal highway until you reach Jounieh. From there turn right into the direction of Harisa. You will have driven 20km before you reach Bkirke.

Byblos

(38 km from Beirut)

Byblos, or Jbeil is considered as one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Within its old town you can still see medieval Arab and Crusader remains, while its archaeological excavations, going back at least 7,000 years, make it one of the most important sites in the country.

In the 3rd millennium BC, the city owed its prosperity to trade in cedar wood. And it is from late 1st millennium Byblos that we get the linear Phoenician alphabet that became the basis of our modern alphabet. The fact of this Phoenician invention is reflected in the Greek name “Byblos,” which originally meant “papyrus” and by extension, “book”.

Archaeologists have unearthed single room huts with crushed limestone floors where early Stone Age inhabitants lived 7,000 years ago. You can also see the foundations of the Baalat-Gebal or “Lady of Byblos” temple, built in 2800 BC when Byblos had close ties with Egypt.

Other temples are the Early Bronze Age L-Shaped temple and the later Obelisk temple which was built on top of it . During the excavation process the Obelisk temple was moved to another location. The Necropolis dates to the 2nd millennium BC and contains nine underground tombs of the Byblos kings. The most important is that of King Ahiram, whose sarcophagus bearing the earliest known inscription in the Phoenician alphabet can be seen at the Beirut National Museum.

Dominating the site is the Crusader Castle erected by the Knights of the Cross in 1103. The Crusaders re-used Roman stonework and cut new stones to match the old. An impressive Roman Colonnade, the remains of a Theater and a Roman Nymphaeun, or water source, are located near the Crusader castle. The Crusader church of St. John the Baptist, known since the 18th century as St. John Mark, was begun around 1115.

After 1170 the church was damaged by earthquakes and local conflicts, which caused its western half to collapse. The present facade dates from the 19th century and the bell tower from the early 20th. A hemispheric dome supported by four pillars covers the baptistery, erected in 1115 against the north wall of the church.

Near the castle entrance is a charming square built by Emir Youssef Chehab (1770-1788), where you’ll find a little mosque and a chapel called Our Lady of the Gate. Towards the port is the old Greek Orthodox Church of Saydet An-Najat (Our Lady of Deliverance). This massive medieval construction, with solid walls supported by buttresses, was built on the site of an older church dating from Byzantine times.

At the entrance of the port are two Crusader towers. The Mamlukes renovated the one on the north, but only traces are left of the southern tower. The remains of ancient quays can be seen under the water at the bottom of the port. Near the castle in the town’s 18th-19th century souks is the Wax Museum of Byblos. Nearby the Fossil Museum features a complete collection of fossil types found in Lebanon. In the town’s higher elevations are a number of very old churches such as the catacomb-like Mar Nohra cut from living rock and the Mar Semaan chapel.

Visit the Wax Museum, founded in 1970, which reflects the Lebanese rural life. Indeed once you are there, you will be taken back to the Phoenician age to discover the Phoenicians way of life, their tradition and civilization. More than 24 scenes and 120 statutes of natural scale, describe in details Lebanon’s history and gives you a very clear idea about Lebanese habits and traditions.

About two km south of Byblos is the mouth of the River Fidar. In summer and fall when the river valley or “wadi” is dry, it is possible to cross the highway under the bridge and walk about 600 meters up the valley to the remains of a Roman Aqueduct. The construction crosses above the riverbed at a height of some 7 meters and stretches nearly 8 meters between the two banks. A second aqueduct, rock-cut and completed with small black stones set in white mortar, can be seen further up the wadi on the north side.

Back on the coast look for a two-story medieval guard tower, which was formerly part of a coastal defense system established by the Mamlukes. Known as Bourj al-Mouhaich or Bourj Al-Fidar, the tower makes use of ancient elements.

Getting There …
Take the coastal highway northbound from Beirut. Byblos is located on the coast, 38km north of Beirut.

Deir El Moukhalles

(Monastery 48 km from Beirut)

A few kilometers past the village of Joun is a Greek Catholic monastery known as Deir el-Moukhalles (Monastery of the Holy Savior) which overlooks fragrant orchards and wooded hills. Founded in 1711, it stands on an even older site. The monastery possesses a beautiful old church and a collection of icons, manuscripts and religious objects.

Getting There …
From Beirut drive south towards Sidon, before entering the city, and after crossing the Awali River bridge, turn left heading east toward the village of Joun. The Monastery is a few kilometers past Joun.

Deir El Qamar

(40 km from Beirut)

Deir El Qamar was the residence of the Lebanese governors till the end of the 18th century. A walk around the town gives you a sence of history as you observe the traditional Lebanese stone houses with their red roofs.

In the main square, you can see the Mosque of Fakhreddine who founded Deir El Qamar and made it the capital city of Lebanon. That is considered one of the great treasures in the town.

Also it’s worth visiting the Bat Palace, Al Kharge Palace and the Seraglio of Emir Melhem Chehab, governor of Lebanon.

Getting There …
From Beirut drive south towards Damour, where you will need to access the Beiteddine road heading east, which will take you to Deir El Qamar some 40km away from Beirut.

Faqra

(Roman Temples – 60 km from Beirut)

A maze of limestone formations known as “houses of ghosts” welcomes the visitor to Faqra. Situated at an elevation of 1550m, Faqra is famous for its temples and its good skiing. The temples of Qalaat Faqra are the most extensive Roman ruins of all Mount Lebanon. The site is dominated by a huge tower 15 meters square, which originally had a third story and a pyramid-shaped roof. An interior staircase leads up to the top. A Greek inscription on the northeast corner of the tower and another above the door indicate that the building was restored by the Roman Emperor Claudius in 43 AD. The temple site is also the venue of a summer cultural festival.

About 50m northwest of the tower is a large altar, probably associated with the tower itself. Not far away is a colonnaded altar. The main temple, dedicated to a “very great god,” is a rewarding place to explore, with its restored columns and the remains of an altar. It had a square courtyard, which was surrounded by a colonnade on three sides.

Continuing down the slope you reach the small temple, dedicated to “the Syrian goddess,” a local form of the goddess Atargatis. Also note the basin in the floor and the benches along the side wall. This temple was made into a church in the 4th century AD.

Getting There …
From Beirut – direction north – driving through the Nahr el Kalb tunnel (18km from Beirut), turn right at the Ajaltoun off ramp heading uphill towards Faraya. The Faqra ruins are easily reached from there.

Gnineh

(Roman and Byzantine remains – 36 km from Beirut)

Ghineh village in the foothills above Jounieh is interesting for its Roman and Byzantine remains found at a place known as “Keb’al el-Hosain.” A well marked stepped path descends from the village, where you will find the ruins of a Roman temple that in the 5th century was made into a church with a mosaic floor.

Nearby are rock-cut tombs with funerary bas reliefs above the entrances. One of the scenes is a Roman funerary rock carving representing a wild animal attacking a hunter. Local tradition says this is a representation of Phoenicia’s god, Adonis, being killed by a wild boar.

Getting There …
From Beirut get on the coastal highway – direction north – drive past Jounieh to Maameltain, then turn right at the Ghazir off ramp heading uphill towards El Kfour. Ghineh is only 8km away from Ghazir.

Harissa

(Churches – 26 km from Beirut)

Harissa can be reached from Jounieh by cable car, a nine-minute ride that takes you up 600 meters from the coast to the precipitous mountaintop. A less breathtaking approach is by road from Jounieh. Near the cable car terminus is a church and a spectacular cathedral begun in 1970, as well as the famous landmark Statue of the Virgin Mary erected in 1908. Inside the base of the statue is a chapel while outside a spiral staircase leads to the top.

Within walking distance is the Greek Catholic Monastery of St. Paul and the many-domed church of St. Paul begun in 1947. The golden walls inside the church are covered with beautiful Byzantine-style wall mosaics that represent Christ Pantocrater, the Virgin wearing a medallion, the Communion of the Apostles, the church fathers and scenes from the Bible.

The area around Harissa is home to some 20 churches and monasteries. The oldest, Saint Anthony of Padua, was built by the Franciscans on land granted by Emir Fakhreddine II in 1628 and confirmed by the Al-Khazen sheikhs. Nearby Bzoummar is the site of the Armenian Catholic patriarchal residence, while the Patriarchate of the Syrian Catholic Community is in Sharfeh. Harissa is also the seat of the Papal Nuncio in Lebanon.

Getting There …
There are two ways to get to Harissa from Jounieh. One is by cable cart, and the other by driving uphill.

Majdel Tarshish

(Roman Remains – 50 km from Beirut)

Majdel Tarshish used to be a station for the retinue of passengers on their way to Metn-Bekaa. The Romans paved roads to cross it, linking, thus, the seaside with the inner plains. They are especially evident in “Bourj Al-Hamam”, (tower of pigeons). Majdel Tarshish was a well fortressed castle in time of invasions that raided down the Bekaa. Rocky sarcophaguses of the Roman era bear witness to that glorious age.

Getting There …
From Beirut head north toward Antelias, about a 12km drive before you turn east to drive uphill towards Bikfaya. From Bikfaya, continue your uphill drive passing through Dhour El Choueir, Bolonia, El Mrouj, Aintoura before your reach Majdel Tarshish.

Mashnaqa

(Phoenician High Place – 50 km from Beirut)

A splendidly isolated altar of great beauty, Mashnaqa occupies a choice location on the sacred road from Byblos to Afqa, the source of the Adonis. The site gives an idea of the traditional biblical High-Places characteristic of the Canaanites and Phoenicians. A large rectangular wall marks the sacred enclosure, in the middle of which rises an Altar. A square structure surrounded by columns, the altar encloses the bases of two earlier altars, arranged and reoriented by the Romans for their own rituals.

The rocks overlooking the road leading to the site are carved with funerary niches, some of which still have their lids. Almost every tomb has sculpted scenes that relate to funeral rites or to the hunting prowess of the deceased. A few hundred meters east of Mashnaqa a road to the southeast descends towards the village of Frat. About 5 km further on is a lovely riverside spot known as “Janneh” or paradise.

Getting There …
Travel north from Beirut along the coastal highway towards Byblos (Jbeil) passing through Jounieh, Tabarja, and El Aaqaybe. A few kilometers away get on the Qartaba off ramp, a major exit, heading uphill towards Qartaba, driving past Bir El Hayt before reaching Machnaqa.

Moukhtara

(Historic Town – 56 km from Beirut)

Moukhtara is an important Shouf town where many traditional houses still stand. The palatial residence of Druze leader Walid Jumblat was built over an earlier structure, with the most recent changes completed in the mid-19th century. Composed of three buildings in a lovely green setting, the style combines Italian influences with the oriental. The palace was damaged in battles between the Jumblats and Emir Bechir II in 1825, but it was rebuilt soon afterwards.

Beyond Moukhtara you’ll find an exotic waterfall restaurant at Ain Murshed. In summer a table near the falls, where the water slips over messy stone and fern, will ensure you a pleasantly cool place to dine.

Getting There …
From Beirut drive south past Damour. Turn right at the Beiteddine road, heading east, passing through Deir El Qamar and Beiteddine. Moukhtara is 11km away from Beiteddine.

Mtein

(Feudal Architecture – 36 km from Beirut)

Rock-Cut tombs from the Roman-Byzantine era indicate that Mtein’s origins probably go back at least to the Roman period. Today, however, the village is notable for its feudal architecture. The Abillama Emirs, who moved here at the start of the 16th century, left behind many of their grand buildings, which can still be seen, in the town’s main square or midan.

The west palace on the square is notable for its beautiful enclosed window balcony, while the south palace has an elegant restored doorway. The long east palace, unfortunately damaged by a shell in the recent war, is now being repaired. It too, used to have an enclosed balcony and remnants of this 200 year-old wooden structure can still be seen.

Behind the south palace, down the hill, is a square stone qobba, with a domed roof. Through the window you can see the typical Druze tomb, which has head and foot stones. From the same period is a tower known as Bourj Al-Mssailkeh. Listed as a Historic Monument since the 1950’s, a 1994 decree places Mtein’s sites under governmental protection.

Getting There …
Take the main highway heading towards Broummana from the Moukales roundabout in Beirut. From there remain on the main road passing through Baabdat, Bersaf, Bikafaya, Dhour El Choueir and then Bolonia. From Bolonia head south towards Mtein, a 3km drive.

Niha Shouf

(Druze Shrine and a Rock-Cut Castle – 65 km from Beirut)

The reputed tomb of Job or Nabi Yacoub/Ayoub, located east of Niha Shouf, has been enshrined in a modern building overlooking a panoramic view. Especially interesting are the hillsides, where strata have been twisted in some distant geological upheaval.

Among the many caves in this area, both natural and man-made, is Shakif Tiron or Qal’at Niha. This is a cave fortress of interlinking chambers cut into the top of a cliff. Occupied by the Crusaders from 1165 to 1260, tradition says it is the hiding place of Fakhreddine II who fled the Turks in 1635. In fact, it was probably his father, Emir Korkmaz, who took refuge here in 1584. In Niha village look for the old church of Mar Yousef (Saint Joseph) as well as a fountain known as “Ain al-Qat’ah.” Both are listed as Historic Monuments.

Getting There …
From Beirut drive south past Damour. Turn right at the Beiteddine road, heading east, passing through Deir El Qamar, Beiteddine, Moukhtara, Aamatour, Bater and then Niha.

Richmaya

(Traditional Village – 26 km from Beirut)

The road to Richmaya goes through Ain Traz, where Lebanese Greek Catholic patriarchs had their residence between 1811 and 1981. You can still see the traditional “discussion benches” near the residence porch, where people used to talk in the shade of the ancient oak tree.

Richmaya village is a pleasant place to walk. Old houses line the main street and several of its buildings are classed as historic monuments. Look for the 18th century Maronite monastery of Saint Antoine of Sir, the Church of Mar Qiriqos and the old residence of Geagea Abi Farah.

On the town’s hillsides are ancient tombs cut into the rock. The verdant area around the hydroelectric station below the village makes a pleasant picnic spot. The waters of the Nabaa es-Safa, the stream that also drives the station’s turbines, cool it.

Getting There …
Take the Beirut-Damascus highway eastbound to Aley. From Aley drive to Richmaya passing through Bkhechtay, Ghaboun and Chartoun.

Zouk

Until the early 1960s ‘Zouk Mikhael’ was a small, sleepy Lebanese Village, perched on a slope at 275m above sea level, overlooking the bay of Jounieh.

Situated a convenient 14km from Beirut, it is now a prosperous community of about 40.000. It is the birthplace of the poet ‘Elias Abou Chabkeh’, whose statue has been unveiled in the center of town. Its souk was famous for jewellery, arak, marzipan sweets, and weaving pictures in silk.

In 1995 the old souk was restored. This consists of a long cobbled pedestrian street entered through arches at either end, which is lined with artisans’ workshops and boutiques. A museum and cultural center dedicated to Zouk’s son Elias Abou Chabke has been opened.

Getting There …
Get on the coastal highway northbound from Beirut towards Jounieh. Exit the highway at Kaslik and head east. With road signs to direct you, the Souk is located about 10 minutes up the mountain from the coastal highway.